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Throw like a girl!
November 18, 2008 7:21 AM   Subscribe

The Kobe 9 Cruise, a Japanese professional baseball team, has drafted Eri Yoshida as a pitcher. She's sixteen years old, a high school student, and will be the first female professional player.

There have been all-women's baseball teams and leagues like All American Girl's Professional Baseball League (which you may have learned about here) in the USA and the Japan Women's Professional Baseball in Japan (sorry, no link). But Yoshida will be the first woman to play in what had been a men's league.

Yoshida has a solid side-arm knuckeball, like the man she wants to emulate, Tim Wakefield
posted by rmd1023 (37 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
No, she'll be the first woman to play in what had been a men's league in Japan.

There have been a few who played in men's leagues in the USA, from Lizzie Arlington (1898) and Jackie Mitchell (1931) through Ila Borders 1997-2000.

Still a great story. What a grin.
posted by rokusan at 7:40 AM on November 18, 2008


Neat. I wouldn't have guessed she was a knuckleballer, but that makes sense.

To those of you not baseball-inclined, a knuckleball is relatively rare type of pitch that is thrown at a lower speed than most other pitches, and moves in an unpredictable pattern. A good knuckleball is very difficult to hit well, and in fact is often difficult even for the catcher to catch.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:40 AM on November 18, 2008


rokusan, your massive baseball knowledge CRUSHES my paltry baseball knowledge. :-)

that's cool to know. thanks.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:43 AM on November 18, 2008


At 5 ft tall, she probably can't build her rep on a fast ball...

It seems a little dishonest to call her the "first female pro" when there is/was a Women's Pro league. And this is a new independent league, so she isn't breaking an existing gender barrier. Maybe a better phrasing would be to call Kobe 9 Cruise the first mixed gender team.
posted by DU at 7:45 AM on November 18, 2008


Video (:48) with a couple of pitches.
posted by cashman at 7:48 AM on November 18, 2008


Loves me some baseball, and this story is full of win. I wish her luck.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:52 AM on November 18, 2008


I feel good for her; bad for all those high school girls wandering home in the dark in their school uniforms after practice. Gambarimasu!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:52 AM on November 18, 2008


DU: yeah, i waffled a bit on the phrasing, then went for brevity in the first paragraph and figured the [more inside] would expand a bit on pro women players.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:59 AM on November 18, 2008


Five feet tall. Full of win and full of cute!
posted by rokusan at 8:00 AM on November 18, 2008


Rmd: I saw Ila pitch twice. Unlike the low-90's fastball of a typical MLB pitcher, her fastball topped out around 80mph. That's not enough to blow away even low-level hitters, so she needed to rely on tricksy stuff. She did have a nice curve (no puns, please) and the crowd most certainly went wild when the pitcher trotting in from the bullpen had a pony-tail hanging out of her hat.

Non-hardcore readers: Tim Wakefield's "fastball", which he uses maybe a dozen times per game, is about the same speed as Ila's (maybe touching 80mph), but works anyway because it seems much faster than that when thrown right before/after his 55mph fluttering knuckleball.

The knuckleball is a bit of a gimmick pitch, which in some ways might make Yoshida seem a bit of a joke (sadly), but to be perfectly fair, all pitchers fool hitters by changing speeds: it messes up a hitter's timing. It's why you can see those massive, millionaire sluggers look so foolish on some horrible swings.
posted by rokusan at 8:09 AM on November 18, 2008



If dimples count she will be unbeatable.
posted by notreally at 8:10 AM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


maybe michelle wie should give up golf. she's like 7 feet tall...
posted by JVA at 8:22 AM on November 18, 2008


You had me at 16 year old Japanese high school girl...
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:43 AM on November 18, 2008


Rokusan, I'm with you up to the part where you say the knuckleball is a "gimmick" pitch. That's too Tommy Lasorda-esque of you, to overvalue the fastball as the "right" way to pitch. Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer are two guys who can't hit 90 on the radar gun yet have long, successful careers (the former being arguably one of the 5 best pitchers of all time). Wakefield is my favorite player for his long and steady performance on the Sox, free of drama, high on results, willing to be a team player such as his bullpen conversion that cost him career wins, or his game 3 sponge-work in the 2004 ALCS. The purpose of pitching is to prevent a hitter from making solid contact on the ball. By adjusting speeds and adding curves, the hitter's ability to do this is made significantly more difficult. However, having the ball dart and weave unexpectedly is just as effective: there's no demerits for how you make a hitter's job tougher.

If anything, the knuckleball is a superior pitch: what other pitch can be thrown 90% of the time and still get hitters out? The knuckleball pitcher puts less strain on his arm, and thus is available to pitch more often including bullpen work if desired, and obviously has longer career potential if they are successful at using the knuckleball.

The knuckleball is also the "dream" pitch: any stiff-jointed desk jockey in his 20's or 30's knows he'll never power a fastball up to 93-95mph, but any one of them could routinely throw the ball the ~57mph necessary for a knuckler. What Wakefield does is incredible, because others have come and gone without making it using that pitch, but it's also so deceptively easy: it looks like he's just having a catch with the catcher, yet he's a solidly above average journeyman making who's earned about $46 million in career base salary alone. And that can make any grown man wonder, "Gee... maybe if I just spent a little more time working on my grip..."

I've long wondered why a female knuckler hasn't made it to the Majors, although there have been plenty of male knuckleball pitchers who couldn't quite cut it; only a few like Wakefield or of course the Niekros and Hough can actually make a career out of it. Still, I think the first woman in the Majors will be a knuckleball pitcher (although an Ichiro-style hitter playing 2B would also seem an attractive entry point); since the very best female softball pitchers currently use an illegal motion and can't get the ball up to Major league speeds, it's likely that the knuckleball pitch- one that theoretically any adult can throw- is the way to go.
posted by hincandenza at 8:44 AM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Also, how awesome that some people's only contribution to this thread is outtakes comments from bad hentai and pixelated porn.
posted by hincandenza at 8:44 AM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


If anything, the knuckleball is a superior pitch: what other pitch can be thrown 90% of the time and still get hitters out?

It might not stand up as well if it wasn't so rare, though. The average batter has had much more practice against major league level fastballs than he has had against knuckleballs. So if knuckleball pitchers were as common as say, lefties who throw mostly sliders, it would probably not be as dominating of a pitch for someone like Wakefield.

I wouldn't call it a gimmick pitch either, though. A knuckleball pitcher who performs well is no less of a pitcher than a guy who can fling it across the plate at 102 MPH.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:57 AM on November 18, 2008


You need the fingers of a safecracker and the mind of a Zen Bhuddist to throw it.
-Jim Bouton
This is really cool. Good for her. I agree with Hincandenza in that a good knuckleball could get a woman into the majors (or a quick all contact middle infielder). It's sort of a bummer though because as respected and feared as knuckleballers are, they are also sort of reviled. I remember somebody, I think it was Kevin Millar, saying about Tim Wakefield's knuckleball, that everyone thinks they can throw a knuckleball because they throw one good one in twenty tries. Wakefield is as good as he is because he only throws one bad one in twenty tries.

I am not at all familiar with the Japanese leagues, what level is this team? Major league? Teeny-weenie minors? Somewhere in-between?
posted by dirtdirt at 9:04 AM on November 18, 2008


"A plucky girl manages to make it up to the majors on the strength of determination and her special pitch". You know, I'm pretty sure I read this manga a few years ago. "Ganbatte, Yoshida san!"

In any case, I like how she seems so matter of fact about this whole thing- calm and focused only on pitching. I wish her luck.
posted by happyroach at 9:27 AM on November 18, 2008


You had me at 16 year old Japanese high school girl...

JESUS. I don't usually say that sorta thing in public.
posted by gman at 9:33 AM on November 18, 2008


If dimples count she will be unbeatable.

You posted in the wrong thread.
posted by gman at 9:38 AM on November 18, 2008


You had me at 16 year old Japanese high school girl...

JESUS. I don't usually say that sorta thing in public.
posted by gman at 11:33 AM on November 18 [+] [!]


EARTH TO SENSE OF HUMOUR, COME IN SENSE OF HUMOUR...
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:47 AM on November 18, 2008


WinnipegDragon -

Meekus: Uh, earth to Brint, I was making a joke.
Brint: Uh, Earth to Meekus, duh, okay I knew that!
Meekus: Uh earth to Brint, I'm not so sure you did cuz you were all 'well I'm sure he's heard of styling gel' like you *didn’t* know it was a joke!
Brint: I knew it was a joke Meekus, I just didn't get it right away!
Meekus: Earth to Brint...
posted by gman at 10:01 AM on November 18, 2008


Aw man. Sarcasm on the internets is hard.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:19 AM on November 18, 2008


Rokusan, I'm with you up to the part where you say the knuckleball is a "gimmick" pitch. That's too Tommy Lasorda-esque of you, to overvalue the fastball as the "right" way to pitch.

Words. In my mouth. Don't put! Thanks.

I said "a bit of a gimmick pitch"... and I certainly never called a fastball the "right" way to pitch. A fastball is only as useful as what contrasts with it.

And it is a bit of a gimmick. It's a trick. It tricks the batter. Heck, that's a pretty fair thing to call it just based on the fact that only four people throw one in US baseball right now. Out of more than a thousand pitchers. They're not the four best pitchers (nor the worst) so it's pretty hard to argue that it's the best pitch. Would you settle for "very unusual" or "odd"? Semantics is silly.

If anything, my point was that changing speeds was eminently important, more important than pure speed, which is sort of the opposite of what you just claim I did in "valuing" fastballs.

Obviously, a knuckleball can be a fine way to change speeds, since you're working the bottom end of the difference rather than the top. It still makes for contrast. It even makes a "weak" fastball like Wakefield's effective because of the exaggerated difference between the two. And of course slow is easier on the arm and good for your career health. Wakefield and Moyer are two of the oldest players in MLB.

Anyway, I very much hope Yoshida does well. But get ready to hear from others (not from me) that she can't throw "real" pitches, or that this is "the only way" a woman could play, etc etc.
posted by rokusan at 10:29 AM on November 18, 2008


However, I am very pro-Lasorda w/r/t pasta.
posted by rokusan at 10:31 AM on November 18, 2008


Woo-hoo!
posted by serazin at 11:16 AM on November 18, 2008


And it is a bit of a gimmick. It's a trick. It tricks the batter.

There you go again...

Seriously, the pitcher's job is to trick the batter. Not only is speed used, but also location. By your definition a change-up is a gimmick pitch. It's a trick! It tricks the batter! The pitcher spends a lot of effort hiding what's coming, and a lot of successful pitchers are successful because they can disguise their pitches as something else.

I think it's a bit presumptuous to say it's a gimmick since only 4 pitchers use it. I'm sure you've read Ball Four, and the mentality towards the pitch is obvious in there. I think it's a great pitch, but one that's difficult to throw well, so that limits the number of people that throw it. I also think there's a lot of resistance to it even today. It's weird after all, and baseball doesn't really accept weird unless it's madly successful. Baseball is full of tradition, and I think a coach will spend more effort with someone that can throw the ball 100mph, but is wild than someone who throws the knuckleball. Power is easy to understand, nuance isn't.
posted by Eekacat at 11:28 AM on November 18, 2008


At the dinner table, we are all Lasordas, rokusan. :)

Okay, didn't mean to put words in your mouth- just saying that it rankles me when people dismiss the knuckler as somehow a "trick", not an honest pitch like the fastball. I mean, sure, the best pitch in baseball would be Sidd Finch's fastball, but realistically whether it's a 95mph fastball or a knuckler, hitters will get better the more they see it. But even if the hitter sits on the fastball, it's still very hard to hit. The same is true of a knuckleball, but more so: you can't even "sit" on a knuckler because no one actually knows where it's going- pitcher included. The knuckler is effective because it breaks very late, and not in a predictable way like a slider or curve. It's been said that basically no hitter- no human being- could adjust their swing to adapt to a break in the last ~10 feet. When people swing at a knuckler, they either miss it completely or mis-hit it because it moved 2 inches from the sweet spot, resulting in either a weak grounder or weak popup, etc. If a knuckleball gets drilled, then either the hitter got lucky by intentionally swinging where the ball wasn't... or the dang thing simply didn't knuckle.

For those joining the thread wondering what the hell we're talking about, the youtube user knuckleball has some good videos of himself throwing a knuckleball. If you watch, say, this video, you can see how some throws are fairly standard parabola of a balling affected by gravity, while others have a very clear little "bobble" or "shift" in the air just before it reaches the plate. No matter how good you are, and how short your swing (outside of a bunt), it'd be very very hard to get the right part of the bat on the ball when it moves unpredictably in those last few inches.
posted by hincandenza at 11:44 AM on November 18, 2008


Bitch can pitch!
posted by Flex1970 at 11:44 AM on November 18, 2008


Seriously, the pitcher's job is to trick the batter.

Using gimmicks. :)
posted by rokusan at 11:54 AM on November 18, 2008


Dude can be rude!
posted by gman at 11:55 AM on November 18, 2008


I just love that we're discussing Japanese pitchers and talking about the freaking knuckleball, actually. This time last year, it would be all shuutos and gyroballs. ;)
posted by rokusan at 12:01 PM on November 18, 2008


By your definition a change-up is a gimmick pitch. It's a trick!

Trevor Hoffman calls the change-up "something of a trick pitch."

Given he's got one of the best changeups of our generation... I defer to Mr Hoffman. ;)
posted by rokusan at 12:08 PM on November 18, 2008


"You need the fingers of a safecracker and the mind of a Zen Bhuddist to throw it." -Jim Bouton

“I wanted to shine in baseball and aimed to become a professional player,” said a Yoshida. “My mind has gone blank but I’m happy.” - Eri Yoshida

Halfway home!
posted by rokusan at 1:15 PM on November 18, 2008


An excellent step forward for women getting respect in traditional male-dominated field.

You may also be interested in:
Japanese Star, Aya Sugimoto, Poses Nude for PETA


....sigh....
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:52 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Cool story. Nice to hear about a girl being chosen as a pitcher. I'm impressed.
posted by nickyskye at 4:21 PM on November 18, 2008


In 1996 I was teaching at a Japanese High School, and having an interest in baseball (being from Australia I wanted to try a sport I knew nothing about) I arranged to train with the school team. It was great fun, and what impressed me particularly was that one of the team members was a girl. I don't remember her name, but I do remember that every evening after school she would head off to her own change room, put on her uniform and come out and field grounders with her team mates, do batting practice, do all the stretching and running, catching, everything.

When I first saw her on the team I was pretty surprised - the school was fairly conservative and the team manager was a real curmudgeon. However she was a completely accepted part of the team, no-one thought it was strange. The great thing about it was that you could tell she loved baseball and she loved being a part of the team. The only thing that disappointed me was that they wouldn't let her play in the qualifying matches for the prefectural championships. I was never sure if that was because of a regulation forbidding girls from playing in the competition, or if the manager thought she just wasn't good enough. Thankfully she was allowed to play in the friendly games between our school and other local schools.
posted by awfurby at 6:07 PM on November 18, 2008


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